On the phone with an admin at a Utah high school, recommending my student teacher for a job / complimenting his work with our diverse population, and the admin asks, “At a low-income school? How is he with rigor? Our school is high-achieving…”
I understand. Our sophomores and juniors take the PSAT and SAT for free. Our talent show sells out. Our culinary students provide hors d’oeuvres for the Seattle International Film Festival, our student journalists produce professional publications, and our choir writes original compositions for graduation. Next week our annual multicultural mash-up takes over. Wanna come? Our students hold doors for visitors, so they’ll definitely hold one for you. You and I can go to ping-pong or anime club after school, and track practice some time after that. We’ll sit on the bleachers and watch our 4 x 400 m sprinters run circles around your racist logic…
We’re far enough into the year to see the end of student teaching for you, but can I say? I continue to struggle. I feel at war with fourth period. So many students in fourth period have problems from the news: illiteracy, apathy, goldfish memories, hummingbird focus… I asked to see Yourhigness’ assignment the other day, but he wouldn’t show me the paper. At first he was preoccupied eating a carton of macaroni salad and egg rolls over the corner garbage can, but when he got to his seat he still wouldn’t show me. He covered the paper with his arms. “Part of my job is to monitor your writing,” I said. He held the paper up and said, “I’ll read it out loud.” After two or three sentences of reading, he looked me in the eye and kept talking as if the words on the page had slid off the edge and were dangling in the air between us. “Are you reading?” I interrupted. “Yeah,” he said, “I’m reading.”
I’m writing from a Saturday class I have to take to keep my Career & Technical Education Certificate. (Journalism is cross-credited so I need both CTE and English endorsements.) I’m trying to pay attention to the instructor but keep thinking about the students we share, especially Yourhighness and Cordonte. I love that you took time during 4th period to talk one-on-one with Yourhighness and answer his questions about college: where you went, how to get in, the cost. Forging relationships like this will make your teaching more powerful and our students’ learning more meaningful, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to do here: spend some time focusing on what you want to know.
My teacher just said, “Sometimes I think I should go back to teaching high school and relax.” Ha! After he told us about a Hawaiian vacation. Other than this once-a-month class, what else is he doing? Lugging elk meat through the North Cascades? I’m 20% of the students here. It’s Saturday. How did I get in The Breakfast Club?
Anyway, onto your questions—starting with the easiest and ending with the hardest.
What are some of the best methods for communicating with parents? What are some good ways for a teacher to relate to students and develop camaraderie? What do teachers gain from professional development?
A new teacher I know asked these questions. Tomorrow on Magical Teaching, I answer them honestly.
Karen Adams Severe, my Uncle Ron’s first wife, embroidered this crewel. My mom kept it displayed throughout our house growing up, and I keep it above the whiteboard in my classroom now. Every time I see it, I think of a few lines from a great Susan Kinsolving poem: “Trust that thirty thousand sword- / fish will never near a ship, that far / from cameras or cars elephant herds live / long elephant lives.”
When I moved into the classroom I’m in now, I found boxes of handouts with prescriptive instructions for writing essays: this essay should have a certain number of paragraphs, and each paragraph should have a certain number of sentences, and each sentence should sound exactly this particular way. No room for creativity or growth. Where were the wild animals in windy canyons? Must we tag every sentient being, every sentence?
Over the last five years I’ve come to understand how students who do not know how to think coherently can benefit from handouts like these: some people learning to build coherent thoughts by working inside someone else’s scaffolding. The teacher provides the pieces and the student assembles them. I try to remember it shouldn’t all be construction. Sometimes growth happens in the wild, and to love something is to give it room enough to grow.
Sorry I kept your questions in the parking lot so long. I wanted to give them the time and consideration they deserve.
I’ll try to avoid the education-ese, though I’m sure some floobie joobie has snuck into my professional lexicon when I wasn’t actively rebuffing it. So if your education program didn’t already make you unintelligible with nonsensical terms, I can help.
Before I regale you with the delights of my wisdom, let me say I spent much of my first six years justifying and acting defensive about everything I did as a teacher. To my principal, I defended my use of paper. (She said one of my students was allergic and that I should remove paper stapled to my walls. I asked if I should remove notebook paper from the class overall. She shook her head as if I were unreasonable.) To the vitriolic chatterboxes populating cable news channels and all the personal insecurities hanging on from adolescence, I defended my competence. To my mother, who to this day believes teachers are over-compensated for their work, I defended my pay. I’m not used to being vulnerable.
You’re going to screw-up as a new teacher. You are! Let’s be okay with that, and let’s be okay with sharing our foibles and flaws. I think we’ll both grow that way. I’ll start, if for no other reason than to leave a few tracks where I’m not supposed to go.
So you don’t eat a bowlful of your own hair.
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Does that excite you as much as it does me?
I knew it! (Okay, there might also be some silly viral videos—FILTERS, PEOPLE, FILTERS!—but that’s because snorting and howling with the Laugh of Recognition is vital and necessary for crazy people to do, especially when the crazy people spend many hours meditating on the important nature of their craft.)
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Your friend & co-conspirator in scheming,
In Praise of Periodicals (like NCTE’s English Journal)
Show Me Your Class Rosters… And I’ll Point Out The Bad Kids